Wednesday, April 03, 2013

When Aunt Rhody's Irish Eyes Are Smiling (even though the Old Gray Goose is Dead) at Clayville - tunes for Saturday, April 6

We'll introduce a couple of old standards Saturday morning at our second Clayville Pioneer Academy of Music tune learning jam session (from 10 a.m. till noon, with some tips for beginners at 9:30 ... details here on the website). They're the chorus to "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" and the American folk song "Go Tell Aunt Rhody,"

"When Irish Eyes Are Smiling"

"When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" was written in 1912 by Chauncey Olcott and George Graff Jr. and set to music by Ernest Ball, for Olcott's production of The Isle O' Dreams, an early Broadway musical. It's one of those "foyne Oy-rish" songs that was later made famous by Bing Crosby, 200 other recording artists, and (I am not making this up) a 1985 duet by Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and U.S. President Ronald Reagan. Shelley Stevens has dulcimer tablature in the archives for March 2005 on her website. Technically, it's for the chorus only. Like a lot of early Broadway and Tin Pan Alley songs, "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" also has an introductory verse that hardly anybody remembers. The legendary 1920s-vintage 78rpm recording by Irish tenor John McCormack has both verse and chorus at ...

We're just going to do the chorus Saturday. If it was good enough for Bing Crosby, (and it was), it's good enough for us! If you want to work up the song as a solo with both the verse and the chorus, there are lyrics and backup chords in D on the website and four-part barbershop harmony on the Barbershop Harmony Society website. Singing harmony with a barbershop quartet is not for the faint of heart, but the sheet music here is also in D if you're interested.

"Go Tell Aunt Rhody"

A favorite children's song, one that most traditional Appalachian dulcimer players learned very early in the game. (Think "Boil 'em Cabbage" but with a catchy melody!) Dulcimer tab by Terry Lewis of the North Georgia Foothills Dulcimer Association (NGFDA) has dulcimer tab for melody and harmony below at Guitar chords (or backup chords) in D at We play the same chords on a dulcimer, or any other instrument.

"Go Tell Aunt Rhody" (or Nancy or any one of a half dozen other names) is related to the shape-note melody SWEET AFFLICTION ("In the floods of tribulation ..."), and it has been assigned to sources as varied as the French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau and African-American tradition. Most plausible answer, according to folklorist John Bealle, is it may owe something to both sources. Writing for the Alabama Folklife Center, Bealle has "reviewed the various arguments ... in detail," but acknowledges "this may well be beyond the interests of many readers." The YouTube clip below shows California singer-songwriter Renee Winter playing a duet with her mother. Watch her mother, on the right, playing chords, harmonies and other fancy stuff.

Also, you ought to watch "Strumelia" teaching this "quintessential beginner's tune for [traditional Appalachian] noter-drone type playing." She tunes her dulcimer differently (to DAA instead of DAA) and she uses a noter, or hand-held stick, to sound the notes. But that's the authentic sound of the mountain dulcimer. And Strumelia, who is an accomplished musician from upstate New York who fell in love with the authentic sound of southern Appalachian music, has a series of YouTube videos that offer the best introduction available on the Internet. This video is 9:37 minutes long, but it'll be the best 10 minutes you've ever spent with your dulcimer!

A few more tunes

We already have tab for some of these, either for our sessions at Clayville or the Prairieland Strings dulcimer club in Springfield. But here are links to what's available on line:

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